From its inception, the movement to shape Rikers’ future has always demanded public recognition of its past. From the start of the #CLOSErikers campaign, Freedom Agenda, Create Forward, and the Humanities Action Lab (HAL), through its States of Incarceration project, strategically partnered to use history and memory to propel the movement forward. Now that Mayor de Blasio, an independent commission, and a growing number of New Yorkers have called for Rikers Island to be closed, Freedom Agenda, Create Forward, and HAL are exploring ways to ensure that Rikers is not forgotten and its memory is shaped by those who were detained there, their families, and their communities.
The Rikers Public Memory Project: A Community Truth and Healing Process emerged from those conversations. This project is a community-based, participatory initiative through which our collective stories about the impact of Rikers are activated to envision a more just NYC. The project is an outgrowth of an ongoing partnership between Freedom Agenda, Create Forward, and the Humanities Action Lab, who, together, sought to think through the ways that the process of collectively remembering can be used as a strategic organizing tool in the movement to close Rikers Island.
Making the closure of Rikers a reality and ensuring that its essential problems are never repeated, in New York City or elsewhere, requires powerful acts of imagination that illuminate the realities of the past and present while creating a more equitable vision for the future.
The Rikers Public Memory Project will use storytelling, art-making, and oral histories to document and make visible the impact of Rikers Island by asking:
What should we remember about Rikers?
How should we remember Rikers?
Why should we remember Rikers?
While the immediate aim of the Rikers Public Memory project is to support the important campaign to close Rikers Island, this is just the beginning of an ongoing and dynamic process that uses public memory in pursuit of reparative justice for the communities that bear the mounting cost of mass incarceration.
This project has been developed through a unique approach grounded in: accountability to those impacted and the community, collaborating with partners as a means of establishing local connections in neighborhoods that are impacted the most by criminal justice policies, intentional support and care to all those involved in the project, and activating these collected oral histories to ensure that Rikers is closed forever.
The Rikers Public Memory Project is overseen by an advisory group comprised of those most affected and those strategically positioned to create change.
Freedom Agenda is a member-led project, dedicated to organizing people and communities directly impacted by incarceration to achieve decarceration and system transformation. https://fa.urbanjustice.org/
The Humanities Action Lab (HAL) is a coalition of universities, issue organizations, and public spaces in 36 cities, and growing, that collaborate to produce community-curated public humanities projects on urgent social issues. Students and stakeholders in each city develop local chapters of national traveling exhibits, web projects, public programs, and other platforms for civic engagement, all made possible by our visionary supporters. Projects travel nationally and internationally to museums, public libraries, cultural centers, and other spaces in each of the communities that helped create them. We always welcome new institutions to join our projects, so please get involved, or reach out if you have any questions. www.humanitiesactionlab.org